Waking up to the builders merchant

It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch each other, and find sympathy. It is in our follies that we are one.

I’m English. And a bit of a softie. I am, therefore, fated to be forever swayed by the plight of the underdog.

Just prior to last year’s election that meant Gordon Brown who was well-and-truly hoisted by his own, grumpy petard. And this season’s underdog seems to be poor old Nick Clegg.

Those of you on social media platform Twitter may have seen the outpourings yesterday taking the proverbial out of his ‘Alarm Clock Britain’ campaign. Poor man. Not only did he have to get up before the lark to meet and greet the Jewson team at Cricklewood, but then he gets media abuse for doing so in the first place.

It probably wasn’t his phrase to start with. It will have been thought up by a team of press officers and civil servants – (see the BBC’s The Thick of It for an idea of what I’m getting at) as a catchy soundbite to get into the papers.

Unfortunately for Clegg, all the ‘snooze-button Britain’ taunts came after the media abuse in the wake of the student tuition fees fiasco. I’m fairly sure that the distribution of that message could have been handled rather better , however, Clegg probably regrets ever making such a pre-election fuss about tuition fees.

Why did he make such rash promises (on paper, too for all to see you silly boy!)? I’ll tell you why. Because he never, in a million years, thought that he might have to keep them. Deep, deep down, I don’t believe that anyone really, truly expected to find the leader of the Liberal Democrats at the Cabinet table as Deputy Prime Minister.

This is called politics. When you are in Opposition you can say pretty much anything and it won’t matter until you get into Government. And for a very long time, it looked as though that would never happen for the Lib Dems. If you’d asked Tony Blair in 1996 whether, as Prime Minister, he would take us into a war that we couldn’t win, that would go on for more than 10 years and that a great swathe of the electorate would be against, my guess is he would have said ‘No’.

Personally, I was rather pleased to see the pictures of Clegg at Jewson. Why? Because it showed that someone – the Deputy Prime Minister no less – takes the role of the builders merchant seriously enough to get up early and visit the people at the sharp end and talk to them about their jobs and their business.

Builders merchants in the spotlight? Hurrah, I say.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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